American students accustomed to easy access to Canadian campuses face unprecedented obstacles to continuing their education as the nation’s borders remain all but closed due to the coronavirus.
Visas once processed in weeks are taking months to secure. Students have been asked to prove that their physical presence is essential — no matter that campuses and dormitories are open even as learning shifts online.
“It’s a mess,” said Christopher Collette, an immigration attorney at Campbell Cohen in suburban Montreal.
The impending school year creates a conundrum for the Canadian government — and for some 500,000 international college students and thousands more who are younger.
Canada’s international student policies are not far from those of the Trump administration, which originally planned to deport foreign students whose courses were fully online this fall. When the plan met with backlash, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement clarified that new foreign students may not enter the country if all of their courses are online.
Were it not for the confusion about Canada’s policies, there might be more of an outcry.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sought to carve out Canada as an attractive option for prospective immigrants given the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies, and the country has taken pride in drawing students from around the world who may ultimately opt to settle in Canada.
But as the coronavirus pandemic continues its stranglehold on several nations, including the U.S., Ottawa is clamping down on who can enter the country, protecting Canadians who have largely flattened the Covid-19 curve.
Entering Canada to attend school is “generally” considered optional unless there is a requirement for a student to be in the country, Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson Jacqueline Callin said.
“The onus is on the traveler to show that their presence in Canada is required,” she said.
Many universities are offering the bulk of their courses online for the fall semester, though some specific programs are running in-person. If a student’s course load is fully online, border agents are unlikely to wave them through.
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